Outback Radio 2WEB saves outback, regional newspaper for Bourke and it’s surrounding community

Amy Leiper, 2nd December 2021
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In 2018 after 131 years in operation, Bourke’s local newspaper, The Western Herald, was threatened with closure due to declining advertising revenue.

Closure would have meant the end of local print media in Bourke, and the end of a newspaper that had been around the outback since 1887.

Ian Cole is chairman of the WREB Co-op Limited, a community body that runs community radio 2WEB at Bourke.

Mr Cole said that the closure of The Western Herald would have been tragic given the newspaper had documented the events of outback NSW since the establishment of towns along the Darling River, the coming of the Afghan camel trains, the paddle steamers, railways, the wool, cotton and mining industries, the beginnings of the rural trade union movement, the great depression and two world wars.

The Western Herald has a long and rich history,” Mr Cole said, “and throw in the fact that Henry Lawson wrote for The Western Herald when he visited Bourke in the early 1890s, and you have a proud heritage worth preserving”.

At the time the paper was threatened with closure, community radio station 2WEB in Bourke purchased the paper, and set about employing people to run it and enlisting volunteers to help with the production of the paper.

“Since we began, many local residents stepped up to help with photos, columns, newspaper preparation, inserts, folding, mailing and delivery” Mr Cole said.

“Without the voluntary effort that we already had at the radio station, we could not have continued – it’s been a whole of community effort, including help from the Clontarf Academy boys from Bourke High School.

Local news is still available in the region – with important synergies that have been created between the newspaper and the radio station.

News output is now created by a single team and shared in print, online and on air, as the only locally produced and locally relevant news service to a wide, outback region.

By acquiring The Western Herald, 2WEB has ensured that robust, local news reporting has remained in Bourke.

Not only have the local jobs been retained, the paid editorial and journalistic staff have grown from 1 ½ to 5 journalists. Community morale has been lifted and volunteers feel a sense of belonging and purpose every Thursday when they gather to put the paper together.

The region now also has an education and training pathway for local news makers, under editorial guidance.

To save on costs, the newspaper operations were relocated to 2WEB’s studios. Joint sponsorship packages for both print and radio are available, providing a strategic income source for both independent, community-owned news services – at time of acquisition, revenue was up 50% because of the new packages.

Options for accessing news has also grown with it, now available online via the website and streamed on TuneIn. Rather than thinking about where he can cut content, Ian Cole is continuously looking at ways to add journalists to provide more coverage so that the entire regional footprint of the station is covered by journalists.

His plan is to grow his team to provide other journalists further out filing stories in the entire area.

With the community shrinking as more people moved to larger cities and services consolidating, morale was impacted and started to dwindle. The town rallied to help save the paper and in doing so, community spirit has picked up. Everyone is included and members of the community are encouraged to write columns and submit photos.

The paper is now effectively owned and operated by the entire community.

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